New Hampshire considering improving Medicaid dental coverage


December 5, 2015

If a bipartisan commission’s efforts prove successful, New Hampshire’s Medicaid beneficiaries may soon find dramatic changes to their dental benefits. State lawmakers are considering adding comprehensive dental benefits to the state’s Medicaid program for adults. And should it pass, this new measure would go a long way to improving their overall oral health.

New Hampshire rates well in certain categories of dental health. For instance, it has the lowest percentage of third-graders with untreated tooth decay. But roughly 25 percent of the state’s adults were found not to have visited a dentist in the last year. Additionally, low-income families in less-populated areas experienced difficulties in accessing dental care.

Truthfully, New Hampshire is not alone in its dental coverage through Medicaid. This healthcare plan, designed for low-income individuals and families, has no minimum requirements for adult dental coverage. And while most states provide at least emergency services, fewer than half offer comprehensive dental care.

Patients turning to ERs, not dentists

New Hampshire’s Medicaid currently covers only treatment of dental trauma, pain and infection. According to the committee, in 2009, there were almost 16,000 hospital emergency department discharges for nontraumatic dental conditions. “Nontraumatic” refers to injuries caused by factors within the body, such as illness. The majority were shown to involve self-paying patients in regular dental offices during normal office hours. This suggests that these patients’ lack of dental insurance forced them to visit emergency rooms.

To meet these demands, the commission recommended that the state consider expanding coverage to include preventive and restorative services. But this would depend on available funding; past cost projections estimate these expanded benefits would cost $11 million to $13 million a year.

The commission also found that most of the state’s dental offices were actually able to serve more patients. They believe that most people fail to receive dental care due to multiple factors: long work hours, financial stress, and the lack of child care, transportation and oral health knowledge. As such, they recommended increasing the state’s education efforts to promote the connection between oral health and general health.